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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Exodus 24

Verses 1-18

Exodus 24:2

All deep feelings of a chronic class agree in this, that they seek for solitude, and are fed by solitude. Deep grief, deep love, how naturally do these ally themselves with religious feeling! and all three, love, grief, religion, are haunters of solitary places.

De Quincey.

Exodus 24:3

Under baleful Atheisms, Mammonisms, Joe-Manton Dilettantisms, with their appropriate Cants and Idolisms, and whatsoever scandalous rubbish obscures and all but extinguishes the soul of man religion now is; its Laws, written if not on stone tables, yet on the azure of Infinitude, in the inner heart of God's Creation, certain as Life, certain as Death! I say the Laws are there, and thou shalt not disobey them. It were better for thee not. Better a hundred deaths than yes. Terrible 'penalties' withal, if thou still need 'penalties,' are there for disobeying.

Carlyle in Past and Present.

Reference. XXIV. 3. E. Talbot, Sermons Preached in the Leeds Parish Church, 1889-95, p. 126.

The Vision of God and the Feast Before Him

Exodus 24:11

I. Consider the vision of God possible for us.

The Bible says two things about that. It asserts, and it denies with equal emphasis, the possibility of our seeing Him. That vision which is impossible is the literal vision by sense, or, in a secondary meaning, the full, adequate, direct knowledge of God. The vision which is affirmed is the knowledge of Him, clear, certain, vivid, and, as I believe, yielding nothing to sense in any of these respects.

What lessons does this vision bring for us? That we Christians may, even here and now, see God, the God of the covenant. Christ, the revealer of God, makes God visible to us.

The degree of this vision depends upon ourselves, and is a matter of cultivation. There are three things wanted for sight something to see; something to see by; something to see with. God has given us the two first, and He will help us to the last if we like. Christ stands before us, at once the Master-Light of all our seeing, and the Object. Faith, meditation, purity, these three are the purging of our vision, and the conditions in us of the sight of God.

II. Notice the feast in the Divine presence. 'They did eat and drink.' That suggests, in the singular juxtaposition of the two things, that the vision of God is consistent with, and consecrates, common enjoyment and everyday life. If we see God there is only one thing that we shall be ashamed to do in His presence, and that is to sin.

That strange meal on the mountain was no doubt made on the sacrifices that had preceded, of which a part were peace-offerings. The same meaning lies in this meal on the mountain that lay in the sacrificial feast of the peace-offering, the same meaning that lies in the great feast of the New Covenant, 'This is My Body; this is My Blood'. The vision of God and the feast on the mountain are equally provided and made possible by Christ our Passover, who was sacrificed for us.

III. We may gather out of this incident a glimpse of a prophetic character, and see in it the perfecting of the vision and of the feast.

Whatever may be the change in manner of knowledge, and in measure of apprehension, and in proximity of presence, there is no change in heaven in the medium of revelation. Christ is forever the Manifester of God, and the glorified saints see God as we see Him in the face of Jesus Christ, though they see that face as we do not.

The feast means perfect satisfaction, perfect repose, perfect gladness, perfect companionship.

A. Maclaren, The Unchanging Christ, p. 125.

Vision and Drudgery

Exodus 24:11

It has been said by a very competent scholar, that this is the most significant chapter in the whole of the Old Testament. It is the basis of that covenant between God and man, which is glorified in the New Covenant of Christ. There was first the shedding of the blood of oxen, and 'This cup is the New Covenant in My Blood'. There was the pouring of half the blood upon the altar, in token of lives that were forfeited to God. And then there was the sprinkling of the people with the other half, as if God were saying, 'My children, live again'. For the blood is the life, and God, in covenant-mercy, was redeeming them from the death which they deserved. It was then that Moses and the seventy elders went upwards to the rocky heights of Sinai. And above a heaven, blue as a sapphire stone, somehow the vision of the Eternal broke on them. And they saw God, not with the eye of sense, for no man hath seen God at any time and they saw God and did eat and drink. Is not that a strange conclusion to the matter? It is a magnificent and unequalled anticlimax. They saw God and began to sing His praise? Not so; they saw God and did eat and drink. What does it mean?

I. First, the vision of God is the glory of the commonplace.

It was an old and a widespread belief that the vision of God was the harbinger of death. You are all familiar with Old Testament passages where men have voiced this primitive conviction. We are far away from that conception now, thanks to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our God is love; He has a Father's heart; He has a Father's yearning for the prodigal. But God was terrible and dreadful once; and to see Him was not a blessing but a woe, driving a man apart from all his fellows into a loneliness horrible as death. I have no doubt that these seventy men of Israel had some such heavy feeling in their hearts. Let them see God, and then farewell for ever to the common lights and shadows of humanity. And so they climbed the hill, and had their vision above the pavement of the sapphire stones, and they saw God, and did eat and drink. Do you see what they were learning in that hour? They were learning that the vision of God does not withdraw us. It is not vouchsafed to drive a man apart, and rob him for ever of familiar joys. It is vouchsafed to consecrate the commonplace; to shed a glory on the familiar table; to send a man back into his daily round with the light that never was on sea or land.

II. The vision of God is the secret of tranquillity. That day at Sinai, as you may well conceive, had been a day of most intense excitement. It was a day when the most deadened heart was wakened to awe and to expectancy. If that were so with the body of the people, it was doubly so with these seventy elders. Think what it must have signified to them as they clambered up the rocky steeps of Sinai. There God had dwelt: there He had spoken to Moses: there there was blackness and darkness and tempest, and so terrible was the sight that even Moses said, 'I exceedingly fear and quake'. I do not think that these seventy elders were in any state to think of food or drink. Like a soldier in the excitement of the charge, they forgot that they were hungry or athirst. And then they had their vision of the infinite, and it brought them to their quiet selves again, and the tumult and confusion passed away, and they saw God, and did eat and drink. That means that in the vision of God there is a certain tranquillizing power. Just to realize that He is here, is one of the deep secrets of repose. The man who has learned that can eat and drink and join in the happiness of feast and fellowship, although his table be set upon Mount Sinai, and be ringed about with darkness and with fire.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 235.

The Vision of God

Exodus 24:11

Bishop Chadwick remarks on this passage: 'They saw the God of Israel,' and under His feet the blue-ness of the sky like intense sapphire. And they were secure: they beheld God, and ate and drank.

I. But in privilege itself there are degrees: Moses was called up still higher, and left Aaron and Hur to govern the people while he communed with his God. For six days the nation saw the flanks of the mountain swathed in cloud, and its summit crowned with the glory of Jehovah like devouring fire. Then Moses entered the cloud, and during forty days they knew not what had become of him. Was it time lost? Say rather that all time is wasted except what is spent in communion, direct or indirect, with the Eternal.

The narrative is at once simple and sublime. We are sometimes told that other religions besides our own rely for sanction upon their supernatural origin. 'Zarathustra, Sâkya-Mooni, and Mahomed pass among their followers for envoys of the Godhead; and in the estimation of the Brahmin the Vedas and the laws of Manou are holy, Divine books' (Kuenen, Religion of Israel, i. p. 6). This is true. But there is a wide difference between nations which assert that God privately appeared to their teachers, and a nation which asserts that God appeared to the public. It is not upon the word of Moses that Israel is said to have believed; and even those who reject the narrative are not entitled to confound it with narratives utterly dissimilar. There is not to be found anywhere a parallel for this majestic story.

II. But what are we to think of the assertion that God was seen to stand upon a burning mountain?

He it is Whom no man hath seen or can see, and in His presence the seraphim veil their faces.

It will not suffice to answer that Moses 'endured as seeing Him that is invisible,' for the paraphrase is many centuries later, and hostile critics will rule it out of court as an after-thought. At least, however, it proves that the problem was faced long ago, and tells us what solution satisfied the early Church.

With this clue before us, we ask what notion did the narrative really convey to its ancient readers? If our defence is to be thoroughly satisfactory, it must show an escape from heretical and carnal notions of deity, not only for ourselves, but also for careful readers from the very first.

Now it is certain that no such reader could for one moment think of a manifestation thorough, exhaustive, such as the eye receives of colour and of form. Because the effect produced is not satisfaction, but desire. Each new vision deepens the sense of the unseen. Thus we read first that Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the seventy elders, saw God, from which revelation the people felt and knew themselves to be excluded. And yet the multitude also had a vision according to its power to see; and indeed it was more satisfying to them than was the most profound insight enjoyed by Moses. To see God is to sail to the horizon; when you arrive, the horizon is as far in front as ever; but you have gained a new consciousness of infinitude. 'The appearance of the glory of the Lord was seen like devouring fire in the eyes of the children of Israel.' But Moses was aware of a glory far greater and more spiritual than any material splendour. When theophanies had done their utmost, his longing was still unslaked, and he cried out, 'Show me, I pray thee, Thy glory'. To his consciousness that glory was still veiled, which the multitude sufficiently beheld in the flaming mountain. And the answer which he received ought to put the question at rest for ever, since, along with the promise 'All My goodness shall pass before thee,' came the assertion 'Thou shalt not see My face, for no man shall see Me and live'.

III. So, then, it is not our modern theology, but this noble book of Exodus itself, which tells us that Moses did not and could not adequately see God, however great and sacred the vision which he beheld. From this book we learn that, side by side with the most intimate communion and the clearest possible unveiling of God, grew up the profound consciousness that only some attributes and not the essence of deity had been displayed.

Reference. XXIV. 11. J. Kerr Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 119.

Exodus 24:12

'The monastical life,' says Bacon in the second part of The Advancement of Learning, 'is not simple, contemplative, but performeth the duty either of incessant prayers and supplications, which hath been truly esteemed as an office in the Church, or else of writing or taking instructions for writing concerning the law of God, as Moses did when he abode so long in the mount.... But for contemplation which should be finished in itself, without casting beams upon society, assuredly divinity knoweth it not.'

My life is not stolen from me. I give it. A pleasure which is for myself alone touches me slightly. It is for myself and for my friends that I read, that I reflect, that I write, that I meditate, that I hear, that I observe, that I feel. I have consecrated to them the use of all my senses.

Diderot.

Exodus 24:15

'There was an idea of sanctity,' says Ruskin, in the third volume of Modern Painters, 'attached to rocky wilderness, because it had always been among hills that the Deity had manifested Himself most intimately to men, and to the hills that His saints had nearly always retired for meditation, for especial communion with Him, and to prepare for death. Men acquainted with the history of Moses, alone at Horeb, or with Israel at Sinai... were not likely to look with irreverent or unloving eyes upon the blue hills that girded their golden horizon, or drew down upon them the mysterious clouds out of the height of the darker heaven.'

How insignificant Sinai appears when Moses stands on its summit! This mountain seems but a pedestal whereon rest the feet of the man, whilst his head reaches to the clouds, where he speaks with God.

Heine.

Exodus 24:18

If we insist upon perfect intelligibility and complete declaration in every moral subject, we shall instantly fall into misery of unbelief. Our whole happiness and power of energetic action depend upon our being able to breathe and live in the cloud; content to see it opening here and (closing there; rejoicing to catch, through the thinnest films of it, glimpses of stable and substantial things; but yet perceiving a nobleness even in the concealment, and rejoicing that the kindly veil is spread where the untempered light might have scorched us, or the infinite clearness wearied.

Ruskin, Frondes Agrestes, p. 24.

The region of dimness is not wholly without relations towards our moral state.

F. W. Newman.

Forty Days

Exodus 24:18

Moses was forty days and forty nights in the mount. He was away. The mount means high elevation, an altitude crowned with golden clouds, utmost distance, perspective, and all the music of mystery. Sometimes we can only say of the great man, legislator, poet, or prophet, He is not here. Where is he? Away. Where? No man can tell; in the hidden places, in the invisible sanctuaries; away among the shaping clouds that are sometimes almost living presences. It is only when we are at some distance from our own life that we can make anything really of it; you cannot deeply consider that problem in the throng, you cannot use your slate and pencil in the great city multitude; you must go away into a mountain or valley or hang over the sanctuary-sea; in order to see yourself you must stand some distance back from yourself.

I. Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. What was he receiving? He was receiving the law. Our greatest men are not the men on the streets. We call these men on the streets very active persons, much too active; the law is not a street anecdote or an incident of the thoroughfare, the law is away in the sanctuary of the infinite, the invisible, and the ineffable.

II. Moses was away forty days and forty nights receiving, not inventing, the law. There is a wondrous deliberation about the movement of God. The few commandments which we once called the law could be written in less than a minute each; it was not the handwriting but the heart-writing that required the time.

III. In Matthew 4:2 we read that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, 'And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered'. Moses and the Lamb; the similarities between their histories are worth tracing out; such collocation of coincidence and repetition constitutes itself into an argument. Forty days and forty nights Jesus was fasting: surely great preparation means great issues; surely this is an athlete in training for some fight; this cannot be a mere pedantic arrangement; we must wait and see what comes of this trial of the soul: it may be that fasting is the true feasting, it may be that this disciplining the body and all that gathering up of force which we call passion or desire may mean that the greatest contest ever fought on the theatre of time is about to take place.

IV. What is the meaning of all this withdrawal, of all this forty days and forty nights' experience?

1. The meaning is rest. The prophets must go away for a time, they must become nothing, enter into a state of negativeness, forget for the time being their own office and function; to forget it may be best to remember it. But the withdrawal must not be too long; too much rest would mean weariness; there is a rest that leads to reluctance, disbelief, and despair. A measurable rest, and then a happy renewal of service, that is the Lord's idea of the ministry of His own discipleship.

2. The meaning is self-culture. A man may be too busy keeping other vineyards to keep his own, a man may be so much from his own fireside that his own children shall be turned into atheists by a misconstruction of his false piety. We should not indulge in any culture that separates us from the people.

3. The meaning is reception. There must be a time of intaking, there must be periods when we are not giving out, but when we are receiving in. Understand therefore that withdrawment from the prophetic office and service, as in the case of Moses and Elijah, does not mean abandonment of that office, but further preparation for it, and that the best withdrawment is a withdrawment which takes us right into the very sanctuary of the soul of Jesus Christ.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. I. p. 132.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 24". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/exodus-24.html. 1910.